Tom returns joined by Andrew Smith of Gold Seal Games. They talk about Honey Wars and Andrew’s upcoming game, Tricky Tides (designed by TIGR’s own Steven Aramini).
Tom: Hi Andrew, Thanks for being my guest on Go Forth And Game.
Andrew: Thanks for inviting me Tom!
Many gamers may not know Gold Seal Games. Why don’t you introduce yourself and your company?
My name is Andrew Smith, I currently live in Atlanta, GA. I graduated from the University of Florida and I work as a mechanical engineer by day. I grew up with the classics like Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue and Risk. I probably made the transition to “gamer” around the age of 9 when I started playing and designing campaigns for DnD.
I currently run an indie board game company called Gold Seal Games. (Twitter and Instagram @goldsealgames, and www.facebook.com/goldsealgames) We Kickstarted our first game, Honey Wars, in early 2016.
Once again DnD is the gateway to gaming. I’ve heard this so often. Well, let’s talk about Honey Wars. What is it about?
Honey Wars is a 30-45 minute long card game for 2-4 players that puts players in charge of hives of honey bees. Players attack their opponents’ hives with cards that feature real-world threats to the honey bee population, attempting to be the first to build 3 hives and accumulate 12 honey.
Check out this related TIGR story
Honey Wars won an award. Talk about that.
Honey Wars won the Rodneys Design Award. It was designed for the 2015 Gamehole Con Board Game Challenge and Hosted on The Game Crafter. There were 85 entrants into the contest and we were selected by the folks over at All Us Geeks as the winner! Games submitted to the contest had to be under $30 and have a strong “Take That” element. Having just recently read a lot online about the plight of the honey bee population, I saw an opportunity to use a thematic game to not only entertain, but to help bring attention to the issue. It was nice to see all the hard work recognized.
I’ve heard only good things about the game. I need to play it because my small group like “Take That” games. What was the hardest part of designing it?
Almost certainly it was “balancing” the game. One of the common strategies in take that games is to just sit back and let everyone waste resources attacking each other, so we had to almost over-incentivize players to attack. The amount of honey each threat cost and how powerful the effects were had to be iterated countless times. One of our big focuses was to have cards that became more useful or less useful as the game progressed. Something that we had to work towards and was pretty tough to tune into, was making sure the players FELT the game was balanced versus us just knowing the game was mathematically balanced.
Balancing elements of a game is the hardest part for me too. I’m still working on this for Tourist Traps after 3 or 4 years of working on the game. Did you have to throw anything out of Honey Wars?
Tons! I think it went through about 4 or 5 totally different game design concepts before we settled on this one. Even after the contest we made some tweaks that lightened the nastiness of some of the cards. Namely, we got rid of effects that either directly or indirectly made you skip your turn.
You are publishing your second game, Tricky Tides. Tell us about it.
The Game Crafter invited me to be a judge for one of their contests since I had won previously. The challenge was to produce a trick-taking game “with a twist.” There were a whopping 87 games entered. After playing each of the finalists I settled on Steven Aramini’s nautical themed Tricky Tides. He managed to design a game that felt completely different from all of the other entries, and frankly any other trick taker I’ve ever played. Honestly, Tricky Tides isn’t really a trick taker. It is more of a pick-up-and-deliver game.
The quick and dirty: Tricky Tides is a 2-4 player game where you take control of a merchant ship moving from island to island picking up different goods like sugar and silk and delivering them to other islands to gain gold. Most gold wins.
The clever bit that really won me over is that the game uses trick taking to determine turn order, and the cards played determine what direction you can move your ship. Because of this, we have taken to calling it a “trick up and deliver” game (clever stuff, Daniel Grek).
The cherry on top was the ridiculously cool stipple art by Naomi Farrell. She incredibly talented and I’m glad that we’re continuing to work with her as we add stuff to the game.
Steven and I are working together to add even more content to the game. We’re looking at launching on Kickstarter first quarter of 2018.
You’ve jumped on the Steven Aramini rocket. What’s he REALLY like? You can tell us cause I don’t think he reads this.
Haha! Are you sure he doesn’t? You produce some quality content here.
Check out this related TIGR story
The Steven Aramini rocket is real. He had what, four games fund on Kickstarter under different publishers this year so far?
Steven is a consummate professional. He’s easy to bounce ideas off of, he has a knack for pulling out the best part of an experience, and I’m very grateful that he’s stayed involved with the development of Tricky Tides. I’m so incredibly excited to get this game out into the world.
Do you have a publishing philosophy or a style of game that Gold Seal is focusing on?
Right now we’re focused on publishing gateway and filler games. In the ideal world, our games would be part of the regular rotation at a family’s dining room table. There’s tons of room for lighter fare and lots of people out there waiting to be introduced to the hobby. That being said, I’d like to imagine publishing a few heavier games some point down the road.
How do you find games with that kind of appeal?
Through several channels. I’m a regular in The Game Crafter chat, so I am afforded some sneak peeks at loads of new ideas every day. Gold Seal Games is also part of the Indie Game Alliance, and IGA makes a solid effort to help designers find publishers and vice versa. I’ve been introduced to some potential games through them, and they continue to keep an eye out for games that might fit into our catalogue.
I also make an effort to go to at least one board game Meetup a week, meet new people and try out new games.
What do you look for in a game?
When I buy games, I find myself looking for games that I can set up and teach in 15 minutes or less. I also like bright colors, games requiring semi-heavy doses of chaining effects, and most tile-laying games.
I also keep an eye out for games that may provide inspiration or validation for any designs I have in the works.
When do you know a game is done?
Oh boy. That’s such a tough question. There are lots of games out on the market that are considered complete, and then some time later expansions came out for them. It takes a lot to not cram every last bit of everything you want to do with a game into the same box.
When players are getting the experience you hoped they would and there’s nothing you want to change about what is there, I’d say it is done. There’s a clear distinction between ADDING to a game and REFINING what is already in the game. To me, “done” happens as the desire to refine nears and reaches zero.
There are SO many games out now. So many different mechanics, themes, etc. In your opinion, what does it take to make a game good?
Everyone is going to have a different opinion on what they think constitutes a “good” game. I think what more and more gamers are looking for is something UNIQUE. If they haven’t seen a particular mechanic before, or if the components are novel, the game has a chance. I personally don’t want to fill my shelves with games that are reskins or incredibly similar to something else I already own.
That’s a great answer. Unique is bearing out on KS I think. Many of the games funding now have a difference in them. In your opinion what is the current state of the game industry? Do you think we are headed for a downturn or an upswing?
I think we’re going to continue upwards. The industry is growing. I just had a quick look at Kickstarter stats and the “Games” category is responsible for $688.43M, or about 21% of all of Kickstarter’s funding. Games is currently the top funded category on Kickstarter and is about $13M more than second place “Design.” What’s great is we’re starting to see stores like Target, Barnes and Noble, and even GameStop selling games that aren’t Trivial Pursuit or chess. They are enabling more and more people to see that board games have moved well beyond what we remember from our childhoods.
What’s in the game queue?
A lot of stuff! There’s a co-op about alien invasion that is in the early developments stages, and I’m checking out a game about turtles. I have a mermaid-themed area control game in the works, a real-time co-op heist game, and a list as long as my arm of poorly described and ill-conceived ideas.
That invasion one sounds cool. If you could co-design a game with one designer, who would it be?
Stefan Feld. I’m pretty sure at least 3 of my top 10 are by him.
I’m Feld junkie too. Pitch Tag: Pitch me a game about…whales. Not harvesting them though.
I’m a fan of word play, so I’m going to lean a bit on the definition of whale that means a big spender.
Whale Watch is a bluffing and deduction game where players attempt to take the aquatic casinos for the most shells and pearls possible. Can you sneak your whale past the pit boss and score big? Will you make it out before you get caught, or will you fall prey to all of the other card sharks at the table?
I did not know that definition. Thanks for enlightening me and gaming the question. What is something interesting about you that most of us would not know?
I’ve been paid to sword fight, at one point in time I held the all-time record for highest score for in-flight trivia on Delta, and I own a bird named Chalupa.
Any last words?
You’re either green and growing, or brown and dying. ABC. Always Be Creating.
Thanks for being my guest Andrew! It was fun getting to know you and learning about Gold Seal Games. Readers, you can contact Andrew on Twitter –@GoldSealGames or goldsealgames.com. And contact me @tomgurg or goforthandgame.com. Thanks!